Iraqi Refugees in Germany

A New Life in Safety

As part of its contribution to the United Nations' resettlement programme for Iraqi refugees, Germany will take in a total of 2,500 refugees in the coming months. In this regard, the Federal Republic is spearheading the EU's role in the programme. Martina Sabra reports

photo: AP
An Iraqi Christian woman in a church in Baghdad: The UN called on member states of the EU to follow Germany's lead and take in an increased number of Iraqi refugees this year

​​The Chaldean Catholic Church is one of the largest Christian communities in Iraq. Approximately 6,000 Chaldeans are currently resident in Germany, 1,000 of which live in Greater Essen in the state of North Rhine Westphalia. The first official Chaldean Catholic parish was recently established here; it even has its own church, the Church of Mar Adai and Mar Mari.

Most Iraqis in Essen's Chaldean Catholic community came to Germany as refugees or experienced war and oppression first hand in Iraq. Father Sami Danqa, for example, was kidnapped by criminals in Baghdad in 2006 and was released eight days later after a ransom was paid.

For the parish community, it is absolutely clear that they must do what they can to help the so-called "quota refugees" who are now arriving in Germany from Iraq - without regard to religious affiliation.

"Even if Muslims attack Christians in Iraq, we as Christians consider it our duty to be there for all those who ask for help," says the chairperson of the parish council, Seyman Adem. That being said, no Muslim Iraqi has yet contacted the parish for help.

Direct assistance on day-to-day matters

Sana Hermez, the mother of three adult sons, helps families in Essen's Chaldean community and is responsible for looking after refugees. Although she admits that no-one yet knows how many refugees will actually arrive, "but everyone here will help out," says the 50-year-old, who fled to Germany in 2002 when her husband was murdered in prison.

Iraqi refugees in Syria (photo: AP)
Iraqi refugees in Damascus: Syria and Jordan are unable to cope with the two million refugees that have fled across their borders from Iraq

​​"We help them look for a flat and get them the basics they need when they arrive, such as cookware, bed linen, or warm clothes. But in my experience, the most important thing is helping them with all the formalities and bureaucracy, making sure someone goes with them and translates for them."

About 5 million Iraqis left their native country as a result of the sanctions imposed in 1990 and the war in 2003. An estimated 2 million people fled into neighbouring Syria and Jordan, where many now live in appalling conditions.

In order to spread the load more fairly, repeated calls were made to Western states to take in more Iraqi refugees and to offer them the opportunity to obtain permanent residence. The USA only began to take in refugees in autumn 2007. In November 2008, the EU then decided to accept a total of 10,000 quota refugees.

Helping the "most vulnerable"

Germany has since agreed to take in 2,500 Iraqi refugees, albeit on condition that the people selected need special assistance because they cannot return to their native country in the near future and cannot be integrated into the community in Jordan or Syria in the long term.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees selected a number of these "most vulnerable" people for resettlement in Germany. The group includes lone mothers with children, women and girls threatened with violence, and members of persecuted religious minorities such as the Yazida.

According to available information, at least half of the selected refugees will be Chaldean Christians, who have been suffering increasing persecution since the Iraq War of 2003.

The Chaldean communities in Germany - in addition to Essen, primarily those in Munich and Stuttgart - will, therefore, have a major role to play in the integration of quota refugees. Rudi Löffelsend, who is responsible for foreign affairs at the welfare association Caritas in the Diocese of Essen, is responsible for Iraqi refugees and hopes that cooperation will be close:

"The Iraqi Christians are generally very well educated and middle class," says Löffelsend. "The same can be said of the Chaldean Christians living in Essen. Most of them are very well integrated into the community, have jobs, some have even built houses, and their children are at the more academically oriented secondary schools. These people are capable of taking control of their lives and this makes them important navigators for the new arrivals."

Optimistic estimate

The state of North Rhine-Westphalia expects to receive approximately 540 quota refugees from Iraq in the coming months. It is, however, likely that some time will pass before they actually arrive in the Ruhr region.

Upon arrival, the refugees will first be brought to Friedland, the former transit camp for refugees from the East and the GDR, near the city of Göttingen. Some states in Germany would then like the refugees to take a three-month integration course together. In North Rhine-Westphalia, on the other hand, the Iraqi refugees are to be given the opportunity to choose where they want to live immediately.

To make sure that everything runs smoothly, Caritas has set up a round table. Here, representatives of Caritas and the dioceses of Paderborn and Cologne will decide how best to help refugees and establish contact with the municipal administrations and Iraqi migrant organisations.

Rudi Löffelsend is optimistic that the Iraqi refugees will be well integrated, not only because of efficient networking within the community, but also because the number is not too large. "With a population of 20 million, 540 refugees are a drop in the ocean when one considers that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis need safety and prospects for the future."

Martina Sabra

© 2009

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